Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 6 April 2020

The Sudanese doctors who are growing basil around our country

By Yasir Arman

Lord Kitchener stroked his heavy moustache and felt a little puzzled after restarting his smartphone and playing back the messages on that phone which had not worked since the disastrous shipwreck on 5 June 1916 in which he met his death and 737 others perished when a mine struck their ship off the coast of Scotland. After news of his death, many British people thought that they might have lost the war.
The British Field Marshal Horatio Gilbert Kitchener, the experienced Minister of War, who had been to many war fronts in different parts of the Empire, including Sudan, Egypt, South Africa and India, did not believe his eyes when he went through his messages, which he read in his mother tongue of English as well as in the Arabic language which he had mastered. He was surprised at how the world had changed. He was a colonialist of the first order who had attended a lot of human barbecue parties in different parts of the Empire. He was one of those who had helped to build the glory of the British Empire in military campaigns and was known for his scorched earth policies.

Despite the sad occasion, something made him proud when he remembered that it was he who had come up with the idea of building the Gordon Memorial College in Sudan but he still couldn’t believe his eyes. He went back to confirm the messages on his smartphone. After doing this, he put the phone aside and picked up the Guardian newspaper from the table. He went through the headlines which praised Sudanese doctors on the front lines of a war that he was not aware of! It was the first time for him to hear about the coronavirus pandemic. He switched on the television which was carrying a report about two Sudanese doctors (Dr Amjed Al Hourani and Dr Adil Al Tayar) who had been waging a war to protect British people. At that moment, he remembered his war against the Sudanese in Omdurman and asked himself how had this happened? What had brought Sudanese doctors to Britain? He consoled himself with the fact that his idea of building the Gordon Memorial College had finally paid off. The time had come to reap the fruits in Britain perhaps to a greater extent than in Sudan itself. He discovered from Google that there were thousands of Sudanese doctors in Britain and reflected on why the Sudanese had resisted an invasion of their country! Perhaps his intention had been to show mercy to the Sudanese after invading them but instead, they had shown mercy to his country.

Long before Lord Kitchener invaded Sudan, the Gordon Memorial College was established in Khartoum and the Kitchener School of Medicine was founded by Sir Reginald Wingate in memory of Kitchener, who had left Sudan in 1899 to fight in the Boer War in South Africa, the ancient city of Meroe in Sudan had been the Birmingham of Africa, as it has been later described. It was the first place to use iron smelting, centuries before Birmingham in Britain came into being. The first Christian arrived in Sudan in 38 AD and thereafter Christian Kingdoms were established in Maqara, Alwa and Soba, which ruled northern Sudan for more than one thousand years. That was before Christianity reached Europe and before President Trump prayed in the White House for God in the Highest to prevent the coronavirus. But meanwhile, the Earth is witnessing no peace and human beings are receiving no mercy. In the days of Alwa and Maqara, our country was great and the Sudanese personality and its historical memory came from there before this coronavirus year.
After Christianity reached Sudan, Europe would later suffer from the invasion of the Vikings and long before that, the Sudanese King Taharka of the 25th dynasty (690-664 BC), who ruled Egypt and Sudan, had been calling for the protection of animal and horses’ rights.

The Kitchener School of Medicine was one of the best medical schools in Africa and, since its foundation in 1924, many well-qualified medical doctors, scientists and politicians had graduated from it, including Al Tijani al Mahi, Omar Bileil, Khalida Zahir, Amer Mersal, Ahmed Abdelaziz, Taha Talat, Justin Yac Aroub, Abdul Halim Mohamed, Richard Hassan, Taha Ahmed Basher and Taha Othman Bilya.

When Dr Ezaldiin Ali Amer laid on the table in his office in Harley Street, in the heart of central London’s medical district, he was fulfilling his duty as a doctor to his last breath. His real name was Abdel Latif Ali Amer as he had been born in the days of the 1924 Revolution. Dr Ezeldin was one of the few who were involved in politics and medicine at the same time without sacrificing one at the expense of the other from his days as editor of the Omdurman magazine and as a student at the Aini Palace in Egypt until he came to London and followed his profession as a doctor until his death. Dr Al Hourani and Dr Al Tayar waged a great humanitarian battle against the coronavirus and they have raised the name of Sudan high in the glorious heavenly firmament and in Humanity without Borders and Doctors without Borders.

Adil al Tayar was a retired organ transplant specialist who returned to work in the NHS when he heard about the enemies of humanity coming back as a deadly virus. And Amjed al Hourani was an ear, nose and throat consultant in the NHS with much of his life still ahead of him but who chose to put his duty first even if it cost him his life. When the pandemic is over, medical doctors and British and Sudanese people will light candles for them and maybe their names will be given to roads and medical districts in Britain before Sudan so that racism disappears, together with the pandemic.

Human life is short and transitory and we ought to use it to serve humanity, as Dr Al Tayar and Dr Al Hourani did. Glory to them and condolences to their families.
What doctors and their teams of nurses, technicians and administrative staff are doing makes them heroes at the time of a pandemic. They deserve to be applauded not only from the balconies of people’s homes but also from the balconies of their hearts.

Doctors were at the forefront of Sudan’s Revolution which began in December 2018 and led to the overthrow of President Bashir’s regime on 11 April 2019. They were wounded and killed because they were searching for a New Sudan, as Steve Biko, a medical student in South Africa, was searching for a new country. The apartheid judge asked Biko in the court: “You are brown. So why do you call yourself black?” Steve Biko immediately replied “You are pink. So why do you call yourself white?” The South African police thought that Biko had died under torture but Biko never died. He reappeared in life when apartheid disappeared.

Ali Fadul, who was tortured to death by Bashir’s security services, awoke from his silence with the cheers of the glorious December Revolution and the Doctors’ Movement was born again. Thanks to Ali Fadul, the death sentence issued against Mamoun Mohamed Hussein by the Bashir regime was a stray shot that did not damage the Doctors’ Movement but instead increased their courage, commitment and patriotism. Lawyers, legal professionals and judges have often formed the active part of the political movement in our country. But the doctors who worked closely with the people were more conscious of their suffering. However, there were also some doctors who made people suffer. Most of them charged fees in outpatient clinics and turned medicine into a commodity governed by profit rather than humanity. There were also private hospitals that behaved like greedy shopkeepers.

Today’s world that controls our lives is more concerned with “Saving Wall Street” than with humanity itself. The free market and its economy have more freedom to undermine great human values and the necessities of human life and they care more for buildings than for values. But when values disappear, the buildings are empty. The coronavirus crisis has exposed the impotence and bankruptcy of the global system. The free world has been deprived of its freedom and the pandemic had revealed a lot, in many ways, about hypocrisy regarding human values. Because of the pandemic, people are now like the living dead.

These days, people flee from their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and the great cities, which human beings have created, have turned into ghost towns. Those who possess weapons of mass destruction have become impotent to combat a mass virus! And many dreams of the powerful have turned into nightmares. There are human lessons to be learned from all this: that modern life lacks a lot of the things that would make it worthy of a human being; and that, despite scientific progress, human beings are still ignorant of many things. Progress should be focused on human beings rather than on machines. It is human beings who created the machines but they ended up becoming slaves of those machines instead of scientific progress serving human beings. We should work tirelessly to make life more human.

Lord Kitchener woke up after being deep in thought and reflected on the meaning of life and human values, on the many people who had lost their lives in his wars and on his short-lived glory in the land that he had invaded before and which had come back to invade his land. The Empire had struck back!

At that moment, he realised that his glory all came from establishing the Gordon Memorial College rather than from the glory and honours bestowed on him for the battle of Omdurman, the Boer War in South Africa and his war against the poor of India and he wished that he had built more Memorial Colleges. He praised and thanked God for the Kitchener College of Medicine and other similar colleges which had sent thousands of Sudanese doctors to Britain, who were now working in the front line of the war against coronavirus. He recalled the front lines for which he had earned his honours but did not find any honours obtained for combating a pandemic. He reflected again and decided to send a message adding his voice to those honouring Dr Al Hourani and Dr Al Tayar. Perhaps this would ease some of the pain of the battles he had fought in the past.

Lord Kitchener stroked his moustache again and contemplated how much life and the world had changed and what had happened to the Empire on which the sun never set. And he thought about what changes life would bring once the pandemic was over. Some would be missing and some would survive. A tear fell from his eye and trickled down over his moustache to his chin which he used to shave properly. He was thinking of the suffering of the children who do not understand the meaning of the pandemic and who have not yet made their way in life.

Lord Kitchener got up and put on his military uniform. He took a last look at his smartphone and found a picture of Dr Al Hourani and Dr Al Tayar with “A message from the people of Sudan” written on it, saying “Al Hourani and Al Tayar, Sudanese doctors who grow basil around our country”. Kitchener smiled and, while his ship was sinking deep into the sea off the Scottish coast, he departed for eternity. As he stood on the foredeck before the ship sank, he had realised that, after winning all his military battles, he was going to drown just because an invisible German mine had struck his ship. And the world in front of him was almost drowning from an invisible virus.

The author is the secretary-general of the SPLM-N Malik Agar